By Kenneth B. Noble 1995, New York Times News Service
St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
AT THE OPENING of new offices here last month for Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., O.J. Simpson's chief lawyer, an impassioned and revealing toast was offered by Earl Graves, the publisher of Black Enterprise magazine.
Recalling how a generation ago millions of blacks listened to boxing matches on radio, hanging on the outcome when Joe Louis fought, Graves called Cochran "our new Joe Louis," and added "he has made us all proud."
The point of Graves' remarks was not lost on the 300 or so black guests at the party: like the former heavyweight boxing champion, Cochran is a symbol of hope and pride. And as with a Joe Louis fight, many feel that the verdict in the Simpson case will reflect not only on the defendant and his lawyers, but ultimately on all black Americans.
Indeed, ever since Simpson was accused of slaying his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman, race has been a backdrop.
The consensus among legal experts has long been that a mostly black jury, perhaps feeling kinship with Simpson and disdain for the white establishment, would favor the defense. Other trial experts argue that because the case is so extraordinary, conventional notions about black jurors favoring a black defendant are inapplicable.
Regardless, blacks appear to be reacting to the Simpson case in profoundly different ways from whites.
A Harris poll last month found 61 percent of whites thought Simpson was guilty, while 68 percent of blacks said he was not guilty.
"You have to be really careful when you say `he's guilty,' around black people," said Salim Muwakil, a black columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times. "I hear a lot of middle-class black folks, who usually are skeptical of conspiracy theories, willing to entertain the idea of him being framed."
Laura Washington, the publisher of The Chicago Reporter, a monthly devoted to race relations, said she was surprised by the number of blacks who wanted Simpson to go free simply because of his race.
"I talk to intelligent, successful black people all the time who sort of wink and say, `Well, even if he did it, he must have had a good reason' or `I don't care if he's innocent or guilty, let him go. …